"transmission outside the scriptures"

"transmission outside the scriptures"

Postby upasaka_/\_ » Tue May 08, 2012 2:56 am

for anyone who doesn't know that is a line from a very famous zen/chan statement traditionally attributed to bodhidharma. here it is in full:

"a special transmission outside the scriptures,
not founded upon words and letters.
by pointing directly to one's mind,
It lets one see into one's own true nature and thus attain buddhahood."


it seems to imply that one can only learn zen from a teacher who has received transmission of it from someone else. does this mean that all books are utterly useless for zen training? i don't think they are, but doesn't this statement make it seem that way? as if it's something that cannot be explained in writing but only "outside the scriptures" without use of "words and letters" at all? in much of the zen tradition (especially in the past) a student is officially a master when they receive "dharma transmission" from the master. does this mean that if the student had left the master and moved across the world, reached enlightenment on his or her own and never received any transmission that it wouldn't count as "zen" enlightenment but would be a different type? does this also mean that only the student(s) that receive transmission can be enlightened and the others can never be considered enlightened (this would be something considering there have been teachers in the past with hundreds or even over a thousand students) in the zen sense?

what does everyone think?


then there is the emphasis on the flower sermon, for those who don't know this is where the buddha gathered his students for a talk and stood silently and just held up a flower. everyone was bewildered but mahakasyapa, who smiled. this signified his mental cognition of the buddha's teachings in that instant and the buddha said:

"i possess the true dharma eye, the marvelous mind of nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. this I entrust to mahakasyapa."

so again, we have the same thing. this implies zen enlightenment is transmitted from teacher to student by use of telepathy, and this supports the idea of the zen lineage going back from bodhidharma all the way to the buddha. so again, i don't believe the following to be true: but it seems that there is no such thing as zen except learning it directly from a zen master. reading sutras, books by masters, practicing things you have learned from these books, all of it is utterly pointless if you have not been given a telepathic transmission.

obviously even most zen masters don't believe these things are literally true as they wouldn't spend so much time writing the wonderful zen books that they do!

i would love to hear some peoples own ideas about what these statements means and what "transmission" is really about. it seems to me that one could re-interpret these ideas but that they do literally imply what i've written above and this is confirmed by dharma transmission ceremonies, whether only in spirit or literal understanding it still confirms that these ideas are promoted within the zen tradition.


personally i believe there are and always have been mixed feelings toward these ideas within zen at large. i think that a person could learn zen and reach enlightenment solely from reading and practicing as long as they had absurdly detailed instructions. after all, anything you can say out loud, you can write! but then that goes against this whole "outside the scriptures" thing.

and then there's the "not founded upon words..." thing, and the thing where the buddha didn't even speak and mahakasyapa got it, so it is very firmly opposed to written, or even spoken, zen as having any function or merit whatsoever and implies that any buddhism that is not this kind of telepathic transmission is not "the true dharma eye" entrusted to mahakasyapa and brought down through millennium to bodhidharma on so on.

when you pigeon hole a tradition to be only valid when it's transmitted by telepathy it seems to make things a little difficult, no? i mean if we took it literally then you would never practice without finding a master, then what are the odds of finding a truly enlightened master? how would you know? it would mean the majority of people practicing zen would be totally and utterly wasting their time. as it is only a small minority of people teaching zen are enlightened, and this is by their own admission usually, and this is fine, in the normal world you can lead someone toward enlightenment by using teachings from the past and things written down and generally accepted as valid, but with the dharma transmission logic, this is totally impossible. probably there would be no more real zen as at some point there would likely have been only one enlightened person and they could have died before transmitting it.

but again, almost all zen masters write constantly so it doesn't seem like anyone takes this seriously. in that case, why promote this idea at all?

what do we make of all this?
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Re: "transmission outside the scriptures"

Postby Huifeng » Tue May 08, 2012 4:51 am

Probably best not to make anything of all this.

~~ Huifeng
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Re: "transmission outside the scriptures"

Postby Astus » Tue May 08, 2012 8:50 am

That four-line verse says nothing about teachers, telepathy, and papers of enlightenment.
First, note that all monastics are also teachers of the Dharma. So there is no point in saying that you are now a special teacher. Of course, there are specific roles in a monastery monks can take up, among which the highest is the abbot, who is the primary organiser of life there. The so called lineage was and is used (to a minimal extent) to relate the abbots of different monasteries.
In the West it is obviously different. Zen came here first from Japan, and also it is not practised in a monastic environment. This resulted in the idea that the only proper teachers are those who have been recognised as such by other teachers. Then you can add to this the legend of recognition lineage going back to Shakyamuni. Since in the West everyone is a lay person, the only obvious way to make a difference between teachers and students is using this paper transmission like a diploma to authenticate people to teach.

This can be detailed on and on, but I can assure you, there is no telepathy involved, neither is anyone actually enlightened by being handed down a piece of fancy writing.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: "transmission outside the scriptures"

Postby Jikan » Tue May 08, 2012 5:47 pm

Ven Huifeng has the best idea I think. But if you have to do something with it, start with Broughton's recent book, Zongmi on Chan.
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Re: "transmission outside the scriptures"

Postby Astus » Tue May 08, 2012 6:28 pm

Or if you want to know about the formation of the idea of "transmission outside the scriptures", you should read "How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute Over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China" by Morten Schlütter.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: "transmission outside the scriptures"

Postby deeku » Sat Nov 16, 2013 5:54 am

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Re: "transmission outside the scriptures"

Postby LastLegend » Sat Nov 16, 2013 7:08 am

And the only reason I’ve come to China is to transmit the instantaneous teaching of the Mahayana This mind is the Buddha. I don’t talk about precepts, devotions or ascetic practices such immersing yourself in water and fire, treading a wheel of knives, eating one meal a day, or never lying down. These are fanatical, provisional teachings. Once you recognize your moving, miraculously aware nature.

Our nature is the mind. And the mind is our nature. This nature is the same as the mind of all Buddhas. Buddhas of the past and future only transmit this mind. Beyond this mind there’s no Buddha anywhere. But deluded people don’t realize that their own mind is the Buddha. They keep searching outside. They never stop invoking Buddhas or worshipping Buddhas and wondering Where is the buddha? Don’t indulge in such illusions. Just know your mind. Beyond your mind there’s no other Buddha. The sutras say, "Everything that has form is an illusion." They also say, "Wherever you are, there’s a Buddha." Your mind is the Buddha. Don’t use a Buddha to worship a Buddha.

According to the Sutras, evil deeds result in hardships and good deeds result in blessings. Angry people go to hell and happy people go to heaven. But once you know that the nature of anger and joy is empty and you let them go, you free yourself from karma. If you don’t see your nature, quoting sutras is no help, I could go on, but this brief sermon will have to do.


Bodhidharma Bloodstream Sermon
http://www.abuddhistlibrary.com/Buddhis ... DHARMA.htm
NAMO AMITABHA
NAM MO A DI DA PHAT (VIETNAMESE)
NAMO AMITUOFO (CHINESE)
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Re: "transmission outside the scriptures"

Postby yan kong » Sat Nov 16, 2013 10:21 am

Neither of the bolded texts in the OP imply that scripture or words are useless in my opinion.
"Meditation is a spiritual exercise, not a therapeutic regime... Our intention is to enter Nirvana, not to make life in Samsara more tolerable." Chan Master Hsu Yun
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Re: "transmission outside the scriptures"

Postby seeker242 » Sat Nov 16, 2013 12:43 pm

upasaka_/\_ wrote:for anyone who doesn't know that is a line from a very famous zen/chan statement traditionally attributed to bodhidharma. here it is in full:

"a special transmission outside the scriptures,
not founded upon words and letters.
by pointing directly to one's mind,
It lets one see into one's own true nature and thus attain buddhahood."


then there is the emphasis on the flower sermon,
so again, we have the same thing. this implies zen enlightenment is transmitted from teacher to student by use of telepathy,

i would love to hear some peoples own ideas about what these statements means and what "transmission" is really about.

and then there's the "not founded upon words..." thing, and the thing where the buddha didn't even speak and mahakasyapa got it, so it is very firmly opposed to written, or even spoken, zen as having any function or merit whatsoever and implies that any buddhism that is not this kind of telepathic transmission is not "the true dharma eye" entrusted to mahakasyapa and brought down through millennium to bodhidharma on so on.

when you pigeon hole a tradition to be only valid when it's transmitted by telepathy it seems to make things a little difficult, no?


I don't see it that way at all. It has nothing to do with telepathy, but rather simply seeing your own true nature for yourself. The flower sermon for example. The Buddha did not transmit anything to Mahakasyapa. But rather, Mahakasyapa understood what the Buddha meant when he held up the flower because Mahakasyapa had already seen his true nature and already understood it. Mahakasyapa "got it" because he already understood it before the Buddha even held up the flower to begin with.

it seems to imply that one can only learn zen from a teacher who has received transmission of it from someone else.


It's more like "You can only learn the truth of zen from seeing your own true nature" and to look for it outside yourself, AKA in books, etc, is a mistake. My teacher says this about the transmission that you speak of. He says "Nothing that I can say can help you". :lol: In other words, the only thing that will really help you is seeing your true nature for yourself, the truth of which is inexpressible with "words and letters".
One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!
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